Should You Retire at 65?
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
On December 7, 1941 — 65 years ago this moment - Japanese naval and air forces made a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7. Eighteen warships were sunk or damaged, about 170 planes are destroyed and about 2,000 Americans are killed. The United States declared war on Japan.
Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘Day that Will Live in Infamy’ has almost become a Trivial Pursuit question. Since the veterans of our last declared war are in their 80’s, this is perhaps not surprising. It is interesting to compare the 50th and 60 anniversaries of the event.
President Bush spoke to World War II veterans and families at Kilo 8 Pier, Honolulu, Hawaii, on December 7, 1991 — the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day:
"I expect if we went around the room, all of us would remember. I remember exactly when I first heard the news about Pearl Harbor. I was 17 years old, walking across the green at school. And my thoughts in those days didn't run to world events, but mainly to simpler things, more mundane things like making the basketball team or entering college. And that walk across the campus marked an end of innocence for me.”At the time, White House speech writer Mary Kate Grant said, “The beginning and end of the speech came straight from him. That's what makes it a uniquely George Bush speech. It's statesmanlike, yet it has some of his personality in it…George Bush has an awful lot of historical credibility. He'll be the last President who fought in World War II. He was the youngest flyer in the entire Navy. What we tried to have people draw from this speech was that Bush was caught up, as the rest of the country was, in this intense hatred of the enemy, and now, 50 years later, he can say, 'We can't hold grudges against the Japanese,' because he was there. Ronald Reagan could not have given that speech, because he didn't fight in World War II. He wouldn't have that moral authority we established at the beginning of the speech."
“We triumphed, despite the fact that the American people did not want to be drawn into the conflict — "the unsought war," it's been called. Ironically, isolationists gathered together at what was known in those days as an "America First" rally in Pittsburgh — at precisely the moment the first Americans met early, violent deaths right here at Pearl Harbor. The isolationists failed to see that the seeds of Pearl Harbor were sown back in 1919, when a victorious America decided that in the absence of a threatening enemy abroad, we should turn all of our energies inward. That notion flew escort for the very bombers that attacked our men 50 years ago . . .”
"I wondered if I would feel that intense hatred that all of us felt for the enemy 50 years ago. As I thought back to that day of infamy and the loss of friends, I wondered: What will my reaction be when I go back to Pearl Harbor?... No, just speaking for one guy, I have no rancor in my heart. I can still see the faces of fallen comrades, and I'll bet you can still see the faces, too . . . But don't you think they're saying 50 years have passed, and we are at peace? Don't you think each one is saying: "I did not die in vain"?
Ten years later, at the 60th anniversary, a Bush was President again and we were still reeling from the second attack on America only a month before. In the interim, we all said as President Bush did, “50 years have passed and we are at peace”. We began to recklessly gut our military, and refer to it as ‘spending the Peace Dividend’. The results were catastrophic. Never again, we vowed, would we be so feckless, so unprepared.
Today is the 65th anniversary of Pearl Harbor day, and 9/11 seems far behind us. It is interesting to speculate what kind of pressure Harry Truman might have felt six years after Pearl Harbor, in the face of increasing American casualties in the Pacific theatre, entangled in the centuries-old rivalries between Japan, China and Korea - had he not chosen to end American involvement with the atomic bomb. As it is, President Bush does not enjoy the support that his father had on the 50th anniversary, or the support Truman had as he chose a horrific way to end WWII. Our brief moment of national unity has fled.
But please, hearken back on this anniversay to the words of the President's father in 1991 - "The isolationists failed to see that the seeds of Pearl Harbor were sown back in 1919, when a victorious America decided that in the absence of a threatening enemy abroad, we should turn all of our energies inward." We can never afford to take such an attitude again, and that alone is reason enough not to 'retire' Pearl Harbor.